Failure is an Opportunity | Modern Manual Therapy Blog - Manual Therapy, Videos, Neurodynamics, Podcasts, Research Reviews

Failure is an Opportunity

This post originally appeared on None of us are perfect, and we all make mistakes. I often say that experience comes with what you learned from your mistakes. Read on....

“The Things which hurt, Instruct” –Benjamin Franklin
The following took place almost exactly one year ago. As I finalize his composition, I’m ironically in the same place (geographically) as I was while planning my next steps at the time–my in-laws’ house in a small coastal Massachusetts town between New Bedford and Cape Cod. I’m currently standing with my computer on an outdoor glass table watching my four-year-old daughter practice casting into the pool with her new princess fishing pole. We’re still trying to see if we can make her a tomboy but currently, Frozen is winning this battle. But I digress.

I heard Maria Popova recently on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast say in regards to blogging and writing in general, “write for yourself.” That’s why I originally started blogging in the first place. I felt I had something to say and needed a vessel from which to release it. However, this post is exceedingly personal. It’s really for me. It’s part cathartic, part healing. Yet, if there are others who have gone through a similar event, or fear they might go through something similar in the future, and they can find some value in this post, then that’s a bonus. So here goes….

It’s not easy to admit when we’ve failed. It can be embarrassing.  It can make us feel small and unworthy. It can make us question our purposes and desires. Failures come in all shapes and sizes. Failure is a necessary step on the path to success. Failure is required in learning and mastery. My life to date has of course been filled with numerous failures. But I had not yet experienced something like this before. I had failed big: I was fired. To everyone else, I had resigned from the company. But the truth was, I had been asked to leave. Truthfully, I didn’t even want to be there anymore. I was already planning on leaving on my own terms. But it still hurt. The hurt came from the embarrassment and disappointment that I felt felt. I failed myself, I failed my parents, my family, and I felt like I had failed my peers and mentors. My actions had been a reflection of what I was, but not what I should and could have been.

I shouldn’t have been the one who was being asked to leave. I should have been the one who was telling THEM I was leaving. However, there is no such thing as SHOULD. There is only what IS. And the fact IS, I was out of a job. I take that back. Working the summer at Burger King is a job. Physiotherapy is a profession. For a lot of us, it’s a lifestyle. It plays a role in defining who were are. It says something about us, about our character. Regardless, I was temporarily unemployed. I had eight years experience as a clinician (at the time), was a residency and fellowship trained manual therapist, was a clinical assistant professor at my Alma mater, VCU, and had served as a regional mentor for new-grad PTs for that company. This isn’t what should happen to someone who has spent so much time and money and effort with the sole purpose of being able to better help people! But I had lost sight of what was important. I had spent the last several months at the company feeling like I was slowly being backed into a corner. Instead of seeing the obstacles in front of me as opportunities to learn and grow–I did the opposite–I gave in. I turned my anger and frustrations outwards–towards my peers, my colleagues, and worst of all–patients.

Former colleagues and mentors would not have recognized the person I had become. I knew I was still me. But, as Steven Pressfield writes, I had allowed Resistance to take hold. So now I had a choice: anger, resentment, blame, denial. They all seemed like good options; and I went through them each for a brief period: I blamed the company–they’re the ones who established the culture yet failed to apply it towards me, and I resented them for it. I blamed them for putting me in this situation, and I denied that ultimately the responsibility for my attitude and actions lay with me. In this case, I was to blame. I allowed myself to be put in certain situations and I allowed myself to let them get out of control. I am in control of my thoughts and actions. I didn’t do a good job before but I can and will be better from now on.

What had I done for this to happen? It might depend on who is asked. The bottom line is I know what I did but also what I didn’t do. But what happened is ultimately not as important as what comes next.  In A Complaint-Free World, Will Bowen writes, “The shortest path to get what you desire is to not talk about or focus on the problem but to focus beyond the problem.”

In The Obstacle Is The Way, Ryan Holiday relates a story of the time when Thomas Edison’s factory burnt to the ground. Instead of bemoaning the loss, Edison gathered together his family to witness the blaze. Due to the contents of the factory, the flames were comprised of a multitude of colors, unlikely to have been seen before, and Edison wanted his family to see it. He could easily have given up and cashed in his chips. However, the next day, Edison started back at work in a part of the factory that had been spared. He and his team created several new products and wound up with a substantial profit that year, exceeding the amount lost due to the fire by over ten times. The lesson is that a purging fire is not always a negative thing. Whether the fire is external or internal, it can and should be viewed as an opportunity for rejuvenation and rebirth.

“What is defeat? Noting but education; nothing but the first steps to something better”–Wendell Phillips. 

The anger, fear, resentment, and frustration that I felt before led to a breakthrough. I am now thankful that this happened. I am becoming a better version of myself as a result. The lessons learned have been invaluable. (Brief tangent: why do ‘valuable” and ‘invaluable mean the same thing?) I have found that although I have to work much harder in certain areas that appear so much easier for many people, it will be more rewarding in the end.

I knew that if my goal was to become a “better” physio, I needed to work towards becoming a better me. I began to seek out resources for personal and professional development and explored the works of authors and podcasters such as Ryan Holiday (@ryanholiday), author of The Obstacle Is The Way; Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur, author, and podcaster, author of The Four Hour Workweek, among others, and host of “The Tim Ferriss Show;” Simon Sinek (@simonsinek), author of Start With Why; Hal Elrod (@halelrod), author of The Miracle Morning; Will Bowen (@WRbowen), author of A Complaint-Free World; former Navy Seal Commander Mark Divine (@markdivine), author of The Way of The Seal and host of “The Unbeatable Mind” podcast, and Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art.

I also reached out to colleagues and friends, and unknowingly, new resources from the wonderful world of twitter. The phone call to my parents was one of the most gut-wrenching experiences I can recall, but they have always supported me and this was no exception.  And of course, my ally all along has been my best friend and wife of 10 years. As anyone who has dogs knows, their unconditional love is unmatched. Rich or poor, good day or bad, as soon as I open my door, I have two wagging tails and happy faces that greet me. The same can be true for my daughter who’s endless exuberance and joy is a constant reminder of what it’s all for anyway.

However, I had I sometimes wonder in what direction things might have gone if this didn’t happen. Maybe I hope it didn’t happen because of the lingering embarrassment and discomfort it still causes me to feel; or the fear that it might happen again. But it did happen. These lingering feelings are not only regular reminders of the growth that has taken place, but also of the work that still lies ahead. I’m working on replacing anger with gratitude. Gratitude for what I have far exceeds any anger or disappointment I have with anything else. I’ll close with another quote from Steven Pressfield:

“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you–and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.”
As always, comments welcome. Thanks for reading

Interested in live cases where I apply this approach and integrate it with pain science, manual therapy, repeated motions, IASTM, with emphasis on patient education? Check out Modern Manual Therapy!

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